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Conventional water-softening appliances intended for household use depend on an ion-exchange resin in which "hardness ions" within the water. This is mainly Ca2+ and Mg2+ and are exchanged for sodium ions. As described by NSF/ANSI Standard 44 ion-exchange devices reduce the hardness by replacing magnesium and calcium (Mg2+ and Ca2+) with sodium or potassium ions (Na+ and K+).
Ion exchange resins, in the form of beads, are a functional component of domestic water softening units. Ion exchange resins are organic polymers containing anionic functional groups to which the divalent cations (Ca+) bind more strongly than monovalent cations (Na+). Inorganic materials called zeolites also exhibit ion-exchange properties. When all the available Na+ ions have been replaced with calcium or magnesium ions, the resin must be re-charged by eluting the Ca2+ and Mg2+ ions using a solution of sodium chloride or sodium hydroxide depending on the type of resin used. For anionic resins, regeneration typically uses a solution of sodium hydroxide (lye) or potassium hydroxide. The waste waters eluted from the ion-exchange column containing the unwanted calcium and magnesium salts are typically discharged to the sewage system
Reverse osmosis (RO) is a water purification technology that uses a semipermeable membrane to remove ions, molecules, and larger particles from drinking water. In reverse osmosis, an applied pressure is used to overcome osmotic pressure, a colligative property, that is driven by chemical potential differences of the solvent, a thermodynamic parameter. Reverse osmosis can remove many types of dissolved and suspended species from water, including bacteria, and is used in both industrial processes and the production of potable water. The result is that the solute is retained on the pressurized side of the membrane and the pure solvent is allowed to pass to the other side.
In the normal osmosis process, the solvent naturally moves from an area of low solute concentration (high water potential), through a membrane, to an area of high solute concentration (low water potential). Applying an external pressure to reverse the natural flow of pure solvent, thus, is reverse osmosis.
Ion exchange is an exchange of ions between two electrolytes or between an electrolyte solution and a complex. In most cases the term is used to denote the processes of purification, separation, and decontamination of aqueous and other ion-containing solutions with solid polymeric or mineralic "ion exchangers".
Typical ion exchangers are ion-exchange resins (functionalized porous or gel polymer), zeolites, montmorillonite, clay, and soil humus. Ion exchangers are either cation exchangers, which exchange positively charged ions (cations), or anion exchangers, which exchange negatively charged ions (anions).
There are also amphoteric exchangers that are able to exchange both cations and anions simultaneously. However, the simultaneous exchange of cations and anions can be more efficiently performed in mixed beds, which contain a mixture of anion- and cation-exchange resins, or passing the treated solution through several different ion-exchange materials.
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